Helping to provide a taste of home for Blue Mountains’ koalas who escaped bush fires
Blue Mountains City Council is assisting Science for Wildlife to supply local leaves for the Blue Mountains’ koalas that are currently in care at Taronga Zoo, after they were rescued from approaching bush fires before Christmas.
Twelve Blue Mountains koalas were successfully evacuated from the Black Range area in the Kanangra-Boyd National Park by Science for Wildlife on 14-15 December and transported by their volunteers to Taronga Zoo, just before their habitat was destroyed. The koalas were being radio-tracked by Science for Wildlife as part of a study, which enabled them to find the koalas quickly and rescue them within the short time window where it was safe to go in before the approaching fire.
Audits of the area are currently being undertaken in collaboration with National Parks and Wildlife, to determine when koalas could be moved back to nearby habitat that was spared by the fires. In the meantime, Council is helping care for the koalas by assisting in the harvest of the feed they need from council-owned reserves.
Council’s Natural Area Management program leader Eric Mahony said: “The koalas have settled in at Taronga Park where they are being housed until it is safe for them to return to their home.
“The biggest challenge they have is providing enough browse to feed them. Taronga Zoo can supply some but they have their own koalas to provide for, so Science for Wildlife has been collecting half of the browse for them since they went into care.
“Koalas are notoriously picky eaters. Not only is their diet restricted to a limited number of eucalypts, they are also extremely particular about which leaves of those trees they will dine on.”
The permission to collect feed from some of Council’s bushland reserves is following the same approval process as seed collection approvals for community nurseries.
“Collections are occurring at a number of locations, which limits the amount that is taken from each area so as to share this impact across a bigger landscape,” Mr Mahony said.
Science for Wildlife, run by Dr Kellie Leigh, has been researching koalas in the Blue Mountains for five years.
In addition to leading the evacuation of koalas from the Blue Mountains, as part of the bush fire emergency response, they have been deploying water stations for koalas and other threatened species, as well as food drops since the bush fires.
Science for Wildlife researchers, supported by San Diego Zoo Global, are also using the talents of a specially trained dog named Smudge to follow the scent of koalas who have survived in the areas affected by bush fires in the Blue Mountains.
“We don’t know how much wildlife is left in the wake of these fires,” said Dr Leigh. “However, we are getting reports of koalas turning up in new locations; they are on the move due to the fires. There are likely to be unburnt patches of native habitat that would provide refuges for koalas and a range of other threatened species.
“We need to find out where koalas might have survived, and work out how many we have left—to guide search and rescue efforts, and also to plan longer term for helping koala populations to recover,” Dr Leigh added.
Pic: The Blue Mountains’ koalas have taken refuge at Taronga Zoo.